Pike River: Whittall pleads not guilty

Former chief executive of the Pike River mine Peter Whittall (insert: Flames burn from a ventilation shaft above the Pike River mine). Photos / NZPA/Iain McGregor
Former chief executive of the Pike River mine Peter Whittall (insert: Flames burn from a ventilation shaft above the Pike River mine). Photos / NZPA/Iain McGregor

Former Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall will defend charges he failed to keep his miners safe but says he is sorry the tragedy ever occurred.

The former chief executive of Pike River Coal appeared in Greymouth District Court today where he pleaded not guilty to 12 charges over the explosions that killed 29 men in November 2010.

The charges were brought under the Health and Safety in Employment Act brought by the former Department of Labour (now the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment).

They relate to his actions regarding safety at the mine, including methane explosion management, strata management, ventilation management, and mitigating the risk and impact of an explosion.

In a statement outside court, Whittall said: "As I have said often in the past, I am deeply sorry for the losses that the Pike River families have suffered. I am very sorry that this tragedy ever occurred as it has affected the lives of so many good people.

"On the separate matter of the Department of Labour charges, I am looking to move forward with these as they are also taking a huge toll on everyone involved, including me and my family.''

Whittall's lawyers, Minter Ellison Rudd Watts, said in the statement that Whittall had remained in New Zealand to co-operate with all the organisations involved in dealing with the aftermath of the explosions and the subsequent investigations.

"Also, unlike others, he has been unemployed since being made redundant by Pike River in 2011.''

Whittall was remanded at large until March 14 next year, where his attendance would be excused.

Pike River contractor Valley Longwall International Drilling Pty will be sentenced tomorrow after pleading guilty to three charges under Health and Safety in Employment Act.

Judge Jane Farish today rejected a request by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to file victim impact statements in the case against VLID.

The ministry had requested the victim impact statements of the families of Ben Rockhouse, Joshua Ufer and Joseph Dunbar be read out.

But Judge Farish said the company's admitted failure did not in any way cause the mine explosion.

- APNZ

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